Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911), Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs from 1863 to 1908, was a key figure in China’s nineteenth-century history and its relations with the West.
Hart was the most senior Westerner in China’s metropolitan bureaucracy in the later nineteenth century, a position which gave him daily access to China’s highest officials in the Grand Council and Zongli Yamen.
During his forty-five years as Inspector General, Hart built the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (CIMC) into the first Western-style administrative institution in China. He also helped to establish the postal service, lighthouses and other key elements of China’s infrastructure. He played a crucial role in China’s imperial politics, significantly influencing its internal reform and diplomatic policy. It is impossible to write about the foreign policy or international trading relationships of the late Qing Empire without reference to Hart.
The Hart Collection at Queen’s University Belfast is a major source of information about Sir Robert Hart and about Sino-Western relations in the late Qing period.
The Sir Robert Hart Project includes the transcription of Hart’s diaries in 77 volumes and other elements of the Hart collection, with key elements to be made available online.
Dr Emma Reisz and Dr Aglaia De Angeli in the School of History are leading the Sir Robert Hart Project, alongside the team at Special Collections in the Queen’s University Library, led by Deirdre Wildy. The diary transcription team is coordinated by Dr Kath Stevenson.
The Hart Project has an established collaborations with the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing and with the China Customs Museum, Beijing.